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Vote with confidence; Oregon’s system is secure

Ballots for the May 17 primary election are beginning to arrive in the mailboxes of registered voters. Exercising the franchise has been remarkably easy in Oregon for more than two decades thanks the state’s vote-by-mail system, a major change this year makes it even more convenient, and rigorous ballot custody and counting procedures make our elections among the most secure in the country.

Until this year, ballots had to arrive at the county Elections Department or be deposited in an official drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. A change in state law now allows ballots postmarked no later than Election Day to be counted.

That will be welcome news to those voters who mailed their ballots close to Election Day, hoping that there was no delay in postal delivery. But even the new postmark deadline comes with a potential catch for last-minute voters: If a ballot is dropped in a mailbox on Election Day after the final pickup time for that box, it won’t get postmarked until the next day, invalidating the ballot.

The good news is, official, secure drop boxes are still available at public libraries in Medford, Ashland, Central Point, Eagle Point, Phoenix and Rogue River, as well as in front of the Elections Office, 1101 W. Main St., Medford. If you’re running late, that’s the safest bet to make sure your vote gets counted.

Another change this year is the addition of a security weave to the main ballot envelope, eliminating the need for an inner “secrecy envelope” to hold the ballot. This streamlines the handling process for elections staff.

That process is extremely secure. Two-person teams of election board workers — required by law to be from different political parties — open the envelopes and arrange them in 200-ballot lots, keeping meticulous logs as they do so.

The ballots are scanned in a secure tally room accessible only by County Clerk Chris Walker and Elections Program Manager Trisha Myers. The counting machines are tested for accuracy. Computers used in the process are never connected to the internet, so the system cannot be hacked from outside.

Best of all, every ballot in every election is retained and stored securely for at least two years and often longer. That preserves a paper trail of every vote that can be audited and rechecked at any time. The lack of a paper trail in other states has made auditing elections a nightmare for officials and prompted claims of fraud.

Walker notes that no system is perfect. That is true, but Oregon’s record is exemplary. In the 2020 election, for instance, out of 2.37 million votes cast, 108 instances of suspected fraud were reported. One of those was referred to the state Justice Department and one is pending resolution.

From 2000 to 2019, there were exactly 38 fraud convictions out of 61 million ballots cast.

Oregon voters have no good reason to doubt the security of their elections, and with a proven vote-by-mail system, no excuse for not participating in a government of, by and for the people.